In the euthanasia debate, atheists need to be more self-aware
Depending on what new Government emerges this month, euthanasia may again find its way onto the agenda. In any renewal of public discussion, Christians like me can expect to hear, once again, that our views should be discounted because we are 'biased' – that we are in the habit of expressing pre-programmed views rather than thinking independently.
We are assured that secular people are more independently thoughtful: there is no God looking over their shoulder and, in any case, they are naturally sceptical and also more intelligent and better educated.
There was a time when some priests and ministers had the authority and boldness to 'tell' you how to think and vote on an issue like euthanasia, but this is now rare. Generally, this kind of pronouncement wouldn’t go down well at all today. After all, a general wariness about 'being told' has been pervasive in society for decades.
Anyhow, Christianity (like virtually all schools of thought) believes killing can be justified in certain circumstances, so a Christian’s opposition to euthanasia cannot be guaranteed. Many Christians do a lot of hard thinking to arrive at a position on topics where the answer isn’t obvious.
Equally wide of the mark is the view that secular people necessarily think independently. Certainly, the idea that removing God and Church from the equation suddenly leaves the individual free to think relies on the rather sweet assumption that there are no other forces that impose on this freedom. In fact, secular people have simply closed down one of many sources of ideas.
To illustrate, I suggest that, if a body of people expresses a view that is clearly misconceived, it is unlikely that they are thinking independently.
There are many misconceived views of Christianity (and, often, religion generally) that are trotted out with mind-numbing regularity. Some examples:
* Christians’ views are pre-programmed. As discussed, Christians are likely to interrogate their beliefs.
* Christianity is opposed to science. Christians have always been involved in science and the Church has always sponsored it. Creationism is atypical. While we do not limit ourselves to empirical observation, we accept empirical proof at face value. We trust the God who gave us our senses and the ingenuity to use them to learn.
* Religions are the cause of war. You don’t have read much history to see that this simply isn’t true. Many wars involve religion but, as our critics know, there is a difference between correlation and causation. Besides, have they not heard of the nation state, territoriality, security, limited resources, racism, political rivalry, socio-economic castes, soccer hooligans and road rage? Not to mention the atheist communist slaughterhouses of the 20th century.
* The Christian doctrine of redemption is immoral, like the ancient use of scapegoats. There was once a practice of loading up a goat with gear representing the community’s sins and driving it into the desert, so that the sins (and the goat) were never seen again. However, Christians believe that, unlike the goat, Jesus volunteered to, so to speak, carry our sins into the desert. And he did this some 2000 years ago without any urging from us. Having returned from the desert, He offers us the benefit of this ordeal. The two scenarios are obviously different.
* Christians are homophobic, Islamaphobic and, more recently, transphobic. This statement is a highly illogical extrapolation from disagreement to hatred, and from the views of a few to the views of all. It also represents a rather bumpy linguistic journey to hatred from fear (the actual meaning of 'phobia', before the dictionaries had to adapt), a journey our critics seem to have endured without discomfort.
* Christians are intolerant. This involves a very serious and crafty misuse of language. Tolerance involves allowing something despite one’s dislike or disapproval of it. However, in modern secular parlance, it means liking and approving, which is entirely different. We can’t all like everything, but we can truly 'tolerate' all sorts things.
These statements are all clearly unreasonable. I suggest the uniform expression of clearly unreasonable views strongly indicates the absence of independent thought. In fact, the views of many people who criticise Christians appear themselves to be scripted.
Much of the programming occurs by repetition, to the point of saturation, in social and then public media. Visit an atheist group website or Facebook page, for example, and see the diet of memes they are fed, and see how many of these memes are, ironically, quotations of celebrity atheists (especially Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris).
Apparently, people will believe anything if you tell them often enough, even that they’re thinking independently. I can’t blame atheists for succumbing to propaganda, but it wouldn’t hurt them to be more self-aware before criticising others.
- Stuff Nation